Who Is Succession Star Jeremy Strong?

Jeremy Strong approaches acting like an Olympic athlete plays a sport. He's serious, focused, and analytical about every single aspect of his work. For the lead role in HBO's hit show "Succession," Strong taps into mind, body, spirit, and soul to play the son of a sinister media mogul, and once he's really in the zone, it's not an easy trip back to reality. "It's kind of what you want as an artist," the Emmy-winning actor told GQ in 2019, explaining how he feels after filming some of his most difficult scenes. "You want to feel just fully spent, like you've left everything on the field."

This all-consuming level of dedication can take its toll on an actor, but after more than a decade of striving to succeed in show business, Strong is eager to sacrifice when needed. Before his HBO dreams came true, he hustled his way through a number of respectable roles in stellar films with award-winning directors, but none served as the catalyst to transform his career. "Every actor is in a wilderness for some amount of time," Strong told Backstage in 2020, "and it tests your staying power and resolve and foolishness, in a way ... Something in me just had to keep going." Thankfully, Strong found his way "out of the woods," and now he'll never have to "hunt" to survive again.

Jeremy Strong always loved the spotlight

Most 4-four-year-olds can't even decide what they want for breakfast, let alone determine the profession they plan to pursue as an adult. Jeremy Strong, however, knew he was destined for a career in acting before he even hit kindergarten. According to GQ, Strong spent his early childhood acting at his church in Boston. His mother, a hospice nurse, and his father, who worked in the juvenile justice system, both supported their son's ambitions. "I was a f***ing ham," Strong quipped. "I was a pretty willful kid ... tenaciously, myopically driven to do this thing [acting] in a pretty irrepressible way."

Strong told The Hollywood Reporter that he was 11 years old when he made the trek to Los Angeles with his father to participate in pilot season auditions. Though he didn't land any roles then, impactful experiences throughout his teenage years — such as seeing "King Lear" performed in London, an internship on the set of "The Crucible," and another for actor Al Pacino, per W — helped Strong remain steadfast with his long-term goals.

The actor is a Yale graduate and literary buff

To continue his mission, Jeremy Strong attended Yale University, where he began as a theater major but switched to English, per GQ — a move that stoked his literary prowess while enabling him to continue acting on the side. Strong was and still is an avid reader, and he's known for frequently citing renowned poets, novelists, playwrights, philosophers, and artists alike. He did as much in an interview with The Guardian, during which he managed to mention T.S. Eliot, "Hamlet," Chekhov, Cy Twombly, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a Dustin Hoffman role that quoted Jacques Cousteau — and this is all in a single sit-down. Clearly, the Ivy League education paid off for Strong, who seeks scholarly inspiration and thrives on artistic analysis in almost every aspect of his life.

Also during Strong's early-20s tenure at Yale, he had the opportunity to work as an assistant for one of his "heroes," Daniel Day-Lewis, on the set of "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," as he told Vanity Fair. The opportunity taught Strong acting techniques "on a technical level and on a creative level," which he carried with him during his post-collegiate pursuits and beyond.

Jeremy Strong moved to New York City right before 9/11

In August 2001, shortly after graduating from Yale, Strong packed his bags and headed for the Big Apple. Within weeks, the terrorist attacks of September 11 threatened to dash his dreams of debuting his acting career. "That was hard; 9/11 pulled the rug out from under me," he explained to W. "But I was undeterred — I just took the scraps that came along." During this time, according to Backstage, Strong performed in small plays that were a far cry from the bright lights of Broadway, while also waiting tables and delivering hotel room service. Times weren't easy, but he remained committed to his dreams.

Given his love of film, Strong actually attempted auditions in Los Angeles at one point, but after the unsuccessful aftermath, he told W he realized Hollywood wasn't his scene. "The casting agent called me up and said, 'That isn't going to happen, but we're preparing a film about Captain America, and we need someone to play the skinny, undeveloped body of the young Captain America before he becomes a superhero.' At that moment, all I wanted was to be in a play in New York," he recalled. And it was, in fact, back in Manhattan where Strong eventually made his mark.

The actor worried he'd never land career-defining roles

Jeremy Strong's passion for acting remained consistent, but his frustration with his sparsely attended plays and limited leading roles continued to grow, he explained to Backstage. "There were so many years where I'd be in the subway, on the F train, and I'd see someone on the cover of Backstage and I would think, 'F***, man, am I ever going to get a chance to work? Am I ever going to get a chance to work at a level that feels exciting and meaningful? Am I ever going to be able to make a living doing this?'"

Even when Strong couldn't pay his bills and the electric company cut his power, as he told The Hollywood Reporter, "little crumbs" helped him maintain hope. One of those moments occurred in 2006 when he performed in a play that was "as far off Broadway as you can get without being in the river," he said in The Guardian. The no-frills production certainly lacked the sparkle of 42nd Street, but, fortunately, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and famed playwright John Patrick Shanley were among the small audience. Strong explained to The Hollywood Reporter that this was "a turning point" because, based on his performance that night, he earned a part in Shanley's 2006 play, "Defiance," which led to his first film role in "Humboldt County" (2008) and his Broadway debut in "A Man for All Seasons." "It was like making contact with another galaxy that you've been yearning to enter," Strong crooned.

Jeremy Strong played several small parts in many major films

For Jeremy Strong, snagging career-defining roles took a tremendous amount of patience, but he never flinched on his long-term goals. After his work picked up speed in 2006, Strong earned a slew of minor parts in major films — and with big-name directors. As his ascent in the industry continued, his only growing pain was the transition from stage to screen. He told The Hollywood Reporter, "It felt like a version of the life that I hoped for and imagined." However, he admitted, "It took me a long time to feel at home on a set the way I feel in the theater."

Thankfully, he had plenty of opportunities to practice with: his steady run of roles in "Zero Dark Thirty" (2012), Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2012), "Parkland" (2013), in which he played the lead of Lee Harvey Oswald, "The Judge" (2014), in which he played Robert Downey Jr.'s autistic brother, "Selma" (2014), "The Big Short" (2015), and Aaron Sorkin's "Molly's Game" (2017).

He set his sights on another Succession role

Working on "The Big Short" and "Molly's Game" provided Jeremy Strong with the opportunity to meet with HBO's "Succession" producers, and with this introduction came the life-changing role of Kendall Roy. Strong immediately appreciated the exceptional quality of the show and its team. "It felt like the greatest Christmas present I'd ever unwrapped," Strong said in The Hollywood Reporter. "It just felt like, 'This is it, this is the thing that I've been waiting for my whole life.'"

His original desire was to play the part of Roman Roy — which later went to Kieran Culkin — due to the character being so unlike him. Strong explained to Vanity Fair that he thought it would be "fun" to play "a real bon vivant a**hole." However, the producers felt he'd be better suited for the lead instead. "I didn't think I would get it because I was up against a much more established and very formidable, talented actor who was more well known than me," Strong told The Hollywood Reporter. The position initially intimidated him, but once Strong overcame his fear and his "blind spot," he realized he actually was best suited to play Kendall instead of Roman, embraced the challenge, and stepped into the spotlight.

The Emmy winner uses Zen philosophy to fight self-doubt

Some may believe that taking on lead roles after more than a decade of supporting parts requires an abundance of self-confidence, but for Jeremy Strong, it's more effective to consider himself a novice. "I spent many years thinking I was missing something," Strong confessed to Backstage, "like some acting chromosome, because I didn't have a sense of security in terms of, 'I know how to do this.' You have to perpetually be a beginner. Every scene, you're starting from scratch again, and you don't know what's going to happen."

This concept, which he referred to as the "Zen philosophy" of "beginner's mind," provides Strong the freedom to enter each acting experience with a fresh perspective and an openness to learn new practices, Backstage said. Dropping his ego at the door helps Strong stay grounded on set and gives him the opportunity for creative and vulnerable "blind exploration" of his craft.

The actor fully embodies the parts he plays

Jeremy Strong's all-encompassing approach to his career sounds as though he could qualify as a "method actor." Backstage defines this practice as "a regimented technique that enables actors to behave realistically under imaginary circumstances." Celebrities credited for exemplary work in this arena include Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull," Charlize Theron in "Monster," Daniel Day-Lewis in "My Left Foot," and Forest Whitaker in "The Last King of Scotland." Strong, however, doesn't consider his process this extreme. "I wouldn't say that I'm a method actor," he reasoned to Vanity Fair. "I would just say that I have a need to maintain focus really, and the energetics and the emotional valence of whatever you have to do that day."

Referring to himself as more of a "character actor" to Backstage, Strong explained why this process tends to be his preference and how he uses it with his work as Kendall on "Succession." "Those were my heroes — the chameleonic actors who would travel somewhere far from who they are every time they did a role. But Kendall feels like the only way out is through. I have to practice the discipline of moment-to-moment honesty without any disguises."

Jeremy Strong read Crime and Punishment to prepare for Season 2 of Succession

Playing the "Succession" character Kendall has come with its fair share of struggles, Jeremy Strong explained to the Los Angeles Times, "Kendall's at the ninth circle of hell; the worst things you could imagine have befallen him. Trying to embody that has been difficult." In order to ease the process of becoming one with his characters, Strong methodically reads and researches texts relevant to the roles, which comes naturally to him as a Yale graduate who majored in English.

One piece that felt particularly important while preparing for season two of "Succession" was the famous 1800s-era novel "Crime and Punishment," he told Vanity Fair. The book's main character "has this terrible secret that is eating him alive and that he can't share with anyone," said Strong, who's read the story more than once. "[His] monstrous pain is simply because he's estranged from people. He can't tell anyone ever, and his guilt creates this unbridgeable chasm between him and other people." Among other literary texts, "Crime and Punishment" enabled Strong to authentically personify Kendall and accurately depict his despair.

He risks his safety for certain roles

Manifesting pain falls far outside the scope of a typical day job, but Jeremy Strong is more than willing to saddle himself with the emotional baggage of his characters for the sake of his career. "I don't really believe in tempering things so that you can stay healthy, if what the character is experiencing is a form of hell. Because it's not about you." he reasoned to Deadline. "It's about the millions of people, potentially, who might experience something from the storytelling."

Viewer connections are a valuable part of the profession for Strong, who pours his heart and soul into his Emmy-winning HBO performance. "What I feel proud of on 'Succession,'" he told Backstage, "is that I've taken it as far as I know how to go as an actor and as a person, in terms of kind of endangering myself."

Along with going to mental extremes, Strong also spares no physical sacrifice. In order to prepare for a "Succession" scene in which his character sprinted through downtown Manhattan wearing office attire, Strong told The Guardian he spent hours running on the West Side Highway in work shoes, an endeavor that ended in fractured foot bones. Strong's overarching commitment continued on the set of "The Trial of the Chicago 7," which was based on the events surrounding a 1968 Vietnam War protest. "Jeremy begged me to spray him with real tear gas," the film's writer and director, Aaron Sorkin, told Vanity Fair, adding that he refused.

The actor wanted to veto his most buzzed-about Succession scene

Although Jeremy Strong pushed to sample real tear gas for Aaron Sorkin's movie, he nearly drew the line when it came to singing a rap song on the set of "Succession." "I advocated cutting it immediately," Strong recalled to The Wrap. "[The script read] 'Yo — kick it MC,' and I said 'Oh, God, it's going to be silly.'" 

Good to know the guy has his limits, but nevertheless, Strong caved once the show's creator Jesse Armstrong sent him the inspiration for the idea — an Instagram clip of a 30-year-old oil industry billionaire rapping with Nelly on his birthday. Strong told The Wrap that he trusted Armstrong's advice, which noted that the song "has to be both completely cringeworthy but at the same time kind of really well executed." And that it was. So much so that the clip went viral, and many viewers dressed as Strong's character for Halloween. "I like to take risks, but that one certainly I haven't done before," Strong joked, ultimately agreeing it worked out for the best.

Jeremy Strong is a family man

When he's not carrying the burdens of his troubled characters on screen, Jeremy Strong's real life revolves around being a loving husband and father. According to The Guardian, Strong and his wife, a psychiatrist from Denmark, met in 2012, married in 2016, and have three young daughters.

"My life has changed a lot in the sense that there's some sort of stable center," Strong told GQ. "I never had that before — I was always just kind of a transient and work was the only thing. And that feels different now, in a very good way. There's something to come home to."

However, leaving a film set and separating himself from work isn't easy. "I don't really feel like an actor much any more," he added in The Guardian. "I feel as if I'm me for half the year and I'm Kendall for half the year." But when he's with his wife and children, he's definitely a different man, show creator Jesse Armstrong told The Guardian. "[Jeremy] came back to the set one day with his family and I didn't recognise him for a beat — he was physically transformed, back from this sort of vacancy to a human being with his lights switched back on again, burning."

The Emmy winner has high-end taste

Outside of his work, wife, and kids, some of Jeremy Strong's interests include elegant fashion and exquisite food. It's his grand appreciation for the minuscule, yet magnificent, details that exemplify many of Strong's hobbies. "[Strong] is like the show's concierge," his co-star Nicholas Braun told Vulture. "If you need a good hotel, a good restaurant in literally any city in the world, he knows where to go. He's in contact with chefs and hoteliers. Like, it's crazy."

When Strong spoke to Access, he name-dropped some of his favorite fashion designers, such as Hermés and Geoffrey B. Small. Lanvin is another he admires, as he told The New York Times.

As for his love of food, Strong doesn't have skills in the kitchen, but he can't get enough of the Netflix show "Chef's Table." Though the cuisine is part of the intrigue, Strong mostly admires the artforms and adventures of the series' culinary experts. "They seek out the greats," he mused to W. "They visit these amazingly unique chefs who have freed themselves from the granite of the established food culture. The show is not about a particular dish or a meal — all these chefs have a sense of wonder. And I relate to the chefs. The silence you hear in their kitchens is the same kind of quiet you hear in the theater."

Jeremy Strong's net worth is on the rise

Although Jeremy Strong has expensive taste, it's no secret that he hasn't always had a bottomless budget. His career has been many years in the making, but in his early acting days, he "didn't always pay the bills," he told The Hollywood Reporter. Once he began to get minor parts in major films, he earned "some really decent wages even for a few days of work," according to TheThings. However, it was once "Succession" gained traction that Strong's finances finally gained strength. According to Celebrity Net Worth, he earned $100,000 per episode during Seasons 1 and 2, and he received a raise to earn $350,000 per episode for Season 3. His total net worth, the site concluded, is $4 million.

Regardless of his paycheck, Strong's heart has always resided in his genuine love of acting. In his acceptance speech for his September 2020 Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a drama series, Strong remarked, "I read a poem by Stephen Dunn that said, 'All I ever wanted was a book so good, I'd be finishing it for the rest of my life.' This job is that for me."